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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04BAGHDAD531
2004-08-17 17:52:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Baghdad
Cable title:  

SHAHRISTANI COMMENTS ON NAJAF

Tags:   PGOV  PTER  PARM  KISL  SOCI  IZ 
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R 171752Z AUG 04
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0784
WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHDC
SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
INFO IRAQ COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L  BAGHDAD 000531 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/14
TAGS: PGOV PTER PARM KISL SOCI IZ
SUBJECT: SHAHRISTANI COMMENTS ON NAJAF

CLASSIFIED BY POLCOUNS ROBERT FORD FOR REASONS 1.4(B) AND
(D).

C O N F I D E N T I A L BAGHDAD 000531


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/14
TAGS: PGOV PTER PARM KISL SOCI IZ
SUBJECT: SHAHRISTANI COMMENTS ON NAJAF

CLASSIFIED BY POLCOUNS ROBERT FORD FOR REASONS 1.4(B) AND
(D).


1. (C) SUMMARY. In his call on Ambassador Negroponte, Dr.
Hussain al-Shahristani was critical of the Iragi Interim
Government's (IIG) handling of the situation in Najaf,
believing that it has made Muqtada al-Sadr stronger and
has cost the Government much support. He urged against a
military solution in Najaf, stressing that the grievances
of supporters of the Mehdi army need to be addressed.
END SUMMARY.


2. (C) Dr. Hussain al-Shahristani, a nuclear scientist,
President of the Iraqi National Academy of Science and
prominent leader of Iraq's Shias, called on Ambassador
Negroponte on August 14.


3. (C) After initial introductions and pleasantries, the
discussion turned to the situation in Najaf. Dr.
Shahristani said that he had been in Najaf previously, on
a day of very heavy fighting. He had wanted to see
Muqtada al-Sadr in order to mediate. Unfortunately, the
fighting was too severe to enable Shahristani to go
behind the military lines to meet with al-Sadr.


4. (C) The major problem at this time, said Shahristani,
is that al-Sadr has gained strength and he and his Jaysh
Mehdi are being seen sympathetically by increasing
numbers of Iraqis -Q in large part because of clumsy
handling of the situation by the IIG and Coalition
forces. He is seen as an underdog and has received
considerably more popular attention than he deserves.
Shahristani believes that there can be no military
solution to the al-Sadr problem and the way it has been
handled thus far is not in the best interests of the
country. Moreover, poor handling of al-Sadr in the media
Q- statements insulting him, particularly by the Prime
Minister and others -- has only aggravated the problem.
It should be understood, said Shahristani, that the great
majority of al-Sadr's supporters are very poor, deprived
people, mostly Shia, who have gained nothing since
Saddam's fall. He also said that many of al-Sadr's
supporters bear deep resentment for generations of
poverty, deprivation and exclusion. Their living

conditions remain terrible. (In some areas of Sadr City,
he noted, children have to walk through sewage to get to
school.) Their anger now has resulted from a sense that
they are still excluded, even from the political process,
and al-Sadr has taken advantage of that. But al-Sadr and
his supporters have also been able to gain sympathy among
many Sunnis.


5. (C )Ambassador pointed out that some of the sense
that nothing has changed is due to the lack of visibility
of some of the improvements. Few people can see or
appreciate what has been done to provide for the flow of
oil and the generation of more electricity, for example.
Shahristani acknowledged that, but said that much more
that is visible could be done. An example of a program
that had both visibility and tangible gains was a
privately-funded "Work-for-Food" project in Karbala that,
he said, was highly successful. It had a budget of USD
10,000, there was a program which employed about 450 men
cleaning streets and individuals were paid with food
baskets.


6. (C) There was a time last year, Shahristani said, when
he believes al-Sadr was willing to join in the political
process, but he was pushed aside Q- particularly by
educated Iraqis who had spent years in exile. At times,
al-Sadr has been receptive to joining in the political
process; at this time he is not Q- and this would not be
a good time to speak to him as he sees political gain in
confrontation.


7. (C ) Shahristani does not believe that al-Sadr wants
an Islamic state. What he believes al-Sadr wants is
respectability and, indeed, a share of power. Al-Sadr
has been able to successfully tap the long-standing
desire on the part of many Shia for recognition and has
gained the support of large numbers of people who have
been marginalized and poor for generations -- descendants
of laborers who had been the feudal poor and feel they
have nothing to lose.


8. (C ) Ambassador commented that it would be strange to
suggest that Sadr has a right to hold the city of Najaf.
The Government's response to try to assert control over
Najaf looks reasonable. Shahristani agreed, saying that
the Mehdi Army should disarm and retire from the city.
He believes, however, that it is important to distinguish
between the Mehdi insurgents and those, particularly in
the Sunni triangle, who continue to hope for a
resurrection of the Saddam regime. What he considers the
poor handling of al-Sadr and the Mehdi Army, particularly
by a number of those in the IIG, has only intensified the
situation and created more tensions. The fighting in
Najaf, he believes, was avoidable. It has cost the
Government much-needed support and led al-Sadr to take
less rational positions. Shahristani asked the
Ambassador to use his influence to caution the IIG,
believing that the U.S. has an important role to play, as
does the United Nations.


9. (C) Shahristani does not consider Muqtada al-Sadr
either helpful or admirable. Neither does he see him as
a serious religious leader. However, he believes that
the way to deal with al-Sadr is for him to be drawn into
the political process rather than be forced into a
confrontation. More importantly, the poor, downtrodden,
mostly Shia supporters of al-Sadr need to be given reason
to feel that their circumstances are improving and that
they have a stake in the new Government.


10. (C) COMMENT: Shahristani spoke quietly but earnestly
about the grim situation confronting the Shia urban poor.
He is a man of considerable integrity and is both
dedicated to democratic values and the betterment of Iraq
overall. As a leader of the Shia community and close to
Grand Ayatollah Sistani, his views can also be said to be
the voice of Shia moderation. That said, already by the
evening of August 12, Iraqi Government National Security
Advisor Rubaie was in Najaf trying to negotiate with
Sadr. Had Shahristani actually reached Sadr, a confused
negotiating situation might have grown even more
confused.


NEGROPONTE